Witnesses Speak Out After Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's 'Near Catastrophic' Car Chase: 'Crazy Hyperbole'
A spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told PEOPLE that the couple was involved in a "relentless pursuit" for "over two hours"
New details are emerging about the paparazzi pursuit of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in New York City.
On Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told PEOPLE that the couple and Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, were involved in a "near catastrophic car chase" while being pursued by "a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi" in the city on Tuesday night. The trio was attending the Ms. Foundation's Women of Vision Awards at Ziegfeld Ballroom in Manhattan where Meghan, 41, was honored.
"Last night, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms. Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi. This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers," the spokesperson said in a statement. "While being a public figure comes with a level of interest from the public, it should never come at the cost of anyone's safety. Dissemination of these images, given the ways in which they were obtained, encourages a highly intrusive practice that is dangerous to all in involved."
Related:N.Y.C. Mayor Slams Paparazzi After 'Near Catastrophic Car Chase' Involving Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
On Wednesday, the NYPD released a statement to PEOPLE confirming that authorities assisted Prince Harry and Meghan's security team, saying their travel was made "challenging" by paparazzi.
"The NYPD assisted the private security team protecting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. There were numerous photographers that made their transport challenging," the statement said. "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests in regard."
In a Wednesday interview with The Washington Post, taxi driver Sukhcharn Singh also shed new light on the 10 approximate minutes he spent with Harry, Meghan and Doria in his vehicle. The cab driver told the outlet that he picked up the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with "an older Black woman and one security guard" around 11 p.m. on Tuesday outside of the NYPD 19th precinct on East 67th Street, a little more than a mile from the Ziegfeld Ballroom.
According to Singh, the security guard waved down his car, and he drove the four to Park Avenue before moving south, and they were followed by two cars.
Related:Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Involved in 'Near Catastrophic Car Chase' by Paparazzi in New York City
"They kept following us and were coming next to the car," the 37-year-old told the Washington Post. "They took pictures as we stopped and were filming us."
The taxi driver said that after a few minutes, the security guard asked him to drive back to the police station, concerned that they were too exposed to photographers. Singh said he then headed north up Madison Avenue to take the group back to where he picked them up.
"I don't think I would call it a chase. I never felt like I was in danger. It wasn't like a car chase in a movie. They were quiet and seemed scared but it's New York — it's safe," he said.
Singh added during an appearance on Piers Morgan's show that after he picked the trio and a security guard up, they "seemed very nervous." He continued, "As we went a block, we were blocked by a trash truck, and then all of a sudden, paparazzi just came out of nowhere and flashes just went off." The driver added that compared to other celebrities he'd had in the cab, the photographers "surrounded the car" and went "crazy with the camera."
A photographer on the scene tells PEOPLE that it is "sensational" to describe the pursuit as "near catastrophic." "Nobody got a ticket or arrested...I don't see how it was near catastrophic other than crazy hyperbole," they say. A second source adds, "At any point, they could have gone to a police station or pulled into a garage."
PEOPLE has viewed video footage of part of the incident, showing an NYPD cop talking to the driver of an SUV, which is stationary in the middle of the street. It is not possible to see who is in the vehicle, but the source alleges that, before the footage was taken, "Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's driver gets pulled over after he was observed by NYPD swerving and almost hitting pedestrians while trying to evade the paparazzi." In addition to those allegations, the source says the driver was wearing a suit and driving an SUV and the Sussexes were not in a yellow taxi cab at this point.
Another source suggested that the photographers who took the footage of Harry and Meghan in the car leaving the venue may have been trying to find out where they were staying so they could follow them the next day. The source added there was no need to photograph them once they secured images of the couple entering and exiting the venue.
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Celebrity photo agency Backgrid USA Inc. also released a statement on the involvement of some of their freelance photographers on the ground in New York that night.
"At BACKGRID USA Inc., we value transparency and ethics in journalism, which include providing fair and factual responses to claims. We are aware of Prince Harry's statement regarding an alleged 'near catastrophic car chase' involving himself, Meghan Markle, and her mother, in New York City on Tuesday night," the statement began.
"We want to clarify that we have received photos and videos of last night's events from four freelance photographers, three of whom were in cars and one of whom was riding a bicycle. It is important to note that these photographers have a professional responsibility to cover newsworthy events and personalities, including public figures such as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. According to the accounts given by these freelance contributors, they were covering the couple's stay in New York City, including the possibility of a dinner after an award ceremony. They had no intention of causing any distress or harm, as their only tool was their cameras. A few of the photos even show Meghan Markle smiling inside a cab," it continued.
"The photographers report that one of the four SUVs from Prince Harry's security escort was driving in a manner that could be perceived as reckless. The vehicle was seen blocking off streets, and in one video, it is shown being pulled over by the police. We understand that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's security detail had a job to do, and we respect their work. We do, however, want to point out that according to the photographers present, there were no near-collisions or near-crashes during this incident. The photographers have reported feeling that the couple was not in immediate danger at any point. At BACKGRID USA Inc., we do not condone any form of harassment or illegal activity. We are taking Prince Harry's allegations seriously and will be conducting a thorough investigation into the matter."
A member of Prince Harry and Meghan's security detail told CNN's Max Foster, "What we were dealing with was very chaotic...The public were in jeopardy at several points. It could have been fatal."
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